The State of Israel’s independence, as well as its continued survival, is a modern-day miracle. But it has come at great cost in human lives and to its citizens, as the events of the last seven months and tragic loss of life of Israeli soldiers and civilians certainly testify. Therefore, before Israel celebrates Yom HaAtzma’ut, its Independence Day, Israel honors the memory of those who gave their lives for their country. On the 4th of Iyar, which is today, Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day, is observed.

Memorial Day in Israel is not a day of picnics, fairs and fireworks. Throughout the country, bereaved family members visit their fallen loved ones in cemeteries, memorial candles are lit, and psalms are recited in their memory. National memorials are held in the presence of top Israeli leadership and military personnel, with Yizkor and Keyl Maleh Rachamim memorial prayers recited. In place of regular programming, the names and ranks of every fallen soldier are noted publicly on television. In one of the more public displays of mourning to honor the fallen soldiers, sirens are sounded simultaneously throughout the entire country, with a one-minute siren in the evening, and a two-minute siren the following morning. As the alarm pierces the air, all traffic comes to a halt, and everyone stands for a moment of silence in honor of those who have fallen.

What is the purpose of silence? Speech is one of humankind’s most powerful tools and is one of the traits that humanity “shares” with God. It was with the power of speech that God created the world. (“And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”) People use their power of speech to connect with each other. Observing a minute of silence forces us to disconnect from those around us and to reflect on both the void created by these great losses, and the miracle of our own survival.

While Yom HaZikaron is normally commemorated on the 4th of Iyar, and Yom HaAtzma’ut is celebrated the following day, on the fifth of Iyar, because the 4th of Iyar falls on Saturday night and Sunday, in order to avoid desecration of Shabbat in preparation for Yom HaZikaron, it’s pushed off until the following day, the fifth of Iyar, and Yom HaAtzma’ut, Israel Independence day is, in turn, celebrated on the 6th of Iyar.

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